Wednesday, December 06, 2017

recent Gospel Coalition piece discusses how Acts 29 survived the collapse of Mars Hill and the departure of Driscoll, but still leaves a few large chunks of its history a little blank

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra might have been able to find anyone willing to address the power transfer that occurred in 2005 through which David Nicholas stopped being the founder and/or leader of Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll took over.

It was no accident that in the early days, Acts 29 (named after the desire to be part of the continuing story of the early church) planters channeled Driscoll’s boldness and blue jeans.

The megachurch pastor was the front man for the church-planting network founded by his mentor David Nicholas, taking over as president around 2005 and moving the headquarters from Nicholas’s church in Boca Raton, Florida, to Mars Hill Church in Seattle. There it was housed in Mars Hill’s offices and primarily funded by its income.

Driscoll’s direct style of communication, charismatic personality, and stunning success with his own church drew young planters who “were serious about the Bible but didn’t feel at home in the rigid Reformed world,” Chandler said.

Chandler was one of them. Well on his way to growing his own megachurch in a Dallas suburb, he was interested enough in Acts 29’s 98 percent church-viability rate to send his youth pastor to check it out. Soon after, Driscoll asked Chandler to come on board.


The tricky thing is that David Nicholas might have come across as some kind of mentor doing a short period of time in which he had the "he's my pastor, you know" stamp of acceptance from Mark Driscoll but that stamp was also assigned to Darrin Patrick around the 2008 period.  At other times Kappas played a role and at other times Hutcherson had some kind of mentoring/assistance role.  Depending on the stage of Mars Hill history there were a number of people mentioned by Driscoll as having advisory or mentoring roles, including his father-in-law Gib Martin.  But who got that label could seem to be ... how to put this delicately, context sensitive. 

So on the whole it's not hard to imagine that absolutely nobody who was present for the power transition in 2005 felt like saying anything quotable for the record, but this 2005 power transfer is one of the most mysterious and opaque parts of the history of Acts 29. 

What this article establishes that corresponds to my own research is that David Nicholas, according to the earliest available published/written sources, was the sole founder of Acts 29.  How Mark Driscoll ever came to be co-credited as co-founding the organization could be a story in itself, but one that I'm not sure we'll ever get to see published (if at all) at The Gospel Coalition unless some Acts 29 associated people get bolder. 

That men associated with leadership at Acts 29 skewed on the younger side and may have been known more for entrepreneurial drive than emotional or spiritual maturity could be the subject of a few academic monographs on the subject of missiology if anybody out there wanted to write such books but the tenor of material published at The Gospel Coalition about Acts 29 so far does not invite optimism that its associates or contributors are ... ideally situated to tackle such projects.

Then we get this skeletal description of the transition from Acts 29 1.0 to 2.0.

The trouble with the wild west is, it’s wild.

“There was a kind of looseness that led to some real frustrations that needed to be fixed,” Chandler said. The focus had begun to slip; the “young bucks were more apt to gather around and argue about definitive atonement than they were to plant churches.”

Finances were also loose. Mars Hill didn’t ask for money, instead saying that planters could give when they could. But church planters aren’t raking in cash; given the option, they’ll spend their funding elsewhere. That left Mars Hill footing the bill and feeling frustrated.

And authority ran a little like a rubber band, loosening and tightening in seemingly random ways. “There was a lot of mistrust, even when I became president,” Chandler said. “There was a massive amount of skepticism about what was going to be true.”

Driscoll saw the weaknesses, and knew he wasn’t the person to fix them, Chandler said. Driscoll was also starting to attract more controversy, drawing regular fire over his impulsive language and attitude toward women, and apologizing again and again.

So in the spring of 2012, Driscoll met with Chandler and Acts 29 vice president Darrin Patrick. Patrick had his hands full with health concerns and his growing church, but Chandler was splitting lead pastor responsibilities with a team of two other men, and could add the responsibility. So Driscoll handed the network over to Chandler.

“I was anxious about taking it because I thought it would lead to conflict between Mark and I,” Chandler said. “But Mark was adamant that he was for me, that he was supportive of me, and that he would come behind me. And to his credit, he did that every step of the way.”

The first thing that needs to be pointed out was that from 2007 to 2012 Scott Thomas, one of the executive elders at Mars Hill Church during the same general period, was president of Acts 29.

In case people didn't remember some of this stuff.

I am thrilled that Acts 29 is moving to Dallas and will be led by my friend, Pastor Matt Chandler. I think it is good for the network that other leaders will add different perspectives, nuances, and emphases. It will only be a better network as healthy, reproducing churches will continue to plant churches for the glory of God.

I was honored to serve in Acts 29 as God allowed some amazing outcomes in spite of man’s feeble efforts. I never deserved the opportunity. I never deserved the love of so many planters. I never deserved the fruitfulness God enabled.

But I wasn’t planning to stay forever. I was anticipating a change for my ministry in the future, and the move to Dallas makes it a perfect time to allow new leadership to emerge. I am looking forward with great anticipation how God is going to shape the network and the planters to effectively pursue His mission with greater Spirit-empowerment and clearer gospel purposes.

[Updated March 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm]

I am deeply thankful for the generosity of Mars Hill Church, the unity of the Acts 29 Board, and for the friendship of Mark Driscoll. I am especially grateful for the hundreds of church planters in Acts 29 who I had the honor of pastoring and leading.

"There are few things that excite me like planting churches and seeing people come to know, love, and mature in Christ. So, this task allows me to serve in an area of my passion," he said. "We are in the process of transitioning Acts 29 from Seattle to Dallas. At present that involves gathering all of the information we can on Acts 29 's budget, processes, setting up Acts 29 legally in Texas, etc."

Pastor Scott Thomas, who was a board member and director of the group at one time, was not mentioned in Driscoll's letter, but Chandler wrote that Thomas was "taking this transition as a chance to pursue other opportunities he has before him and will not be making the move to Dallas."

"Scott and I are on very good terms and had dinner just this past weekend, where he informed me of his deep love for you and the network but felt like God has released him from leading Acts 29. He is excited about what God has next for him," Chandler wrote.

For a relatively short overview of that.

There's a somewhat long comment trail (for this blog, anyway) at that post.  Somebody thought that Wenatchee The Hatchet was trying to drum up some kind of needless controversy.  In light of everything that has transpired since 2012 with Mark Driscoll's removal from Acts 29 and resignation from Mars Hill I don't think that my highlighting the somewhat alarming overlap of MH leadership with A29 leadership to a point where at a number of intervals it was hard to know where MH stopped and A29 was a problem.  If anything the problem was one Matt Chandler would note later in conversations with the press.

But when this new piece describes how Driscoll saw the weaknesses in Acts 29 and knew he wasn't the person to fix them that could be misunderstood by readers ignorant of Acts 29 history as some indication that Mark Driscoll had been president of Acts 29 through the 2007-2012 period when it can be fairly readily established by his own testimony and that of others that he wasn't.

And ... what happened to Darrin Patrick?   He was removed, wasn't he, from Acts 29 leadership and leadership at The Journey about a year ago, wasn't he?

There's something else, the comment in the article about how Mars Hill ended up fitting the bill for Acts 29 and that its leaders had some sore feelings about that.  By early 2012, let's recall, there was a memo inside Mars Hill from Sutton Turner that explained that Mars Hill itself was on the brink of what he regarded as something close to fiscal disaster.

By early 2012 Mars Hill was, at least by some accounts, not really situated in the midst of launching multiple new campuses and promoting Real Marriage to keep operating as it had in the past.

But in 2011 it was impossible to get the sense that Mark Driscoll knew he wasn't the person to fix problems at Acts 29 because though he was on the Acts 29 board he was not the acting president.  If anything in later 2011 one of the main concerns was how to move forward with Pastor Mark TV on the one hand and promotion of Real Marriage on the other.  There was also, of course, that cease-and-desist letter sent to a church regarding logo issues. 

Since it's not that hard to establish that Scott Thomas had been president of Acts 29 for most of the 2007 to 2012 period what happened to him?  He stepped down but these days resignation announcements don't explain themselves, and Scott Thomas didn't just step down from leadership at Acts 29, he also stopped being in leadership at Mars Hill in early 2012, too.   Oddly, like David Nicholas before him, Scott Thomas' abrupt departure from formal leadership of Acts 29 is either altogether unmentioned or, when mentioned at all, basically unexplained.  Whatever was going on, Chandler's experience was that Mark Driscoll was totally supportive of his taking over Acts 29. 
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is nothing less than a miracle that Acts 29 did not go down with Mars Hill,” said Acts 29 CEO Steve Timmis.

Driscoll was not only instrumental in “but also the personality of Acts 29,” Kwon said. So when Driscoll’s controversies started piling up, the board “publicly and internally tried to support and give [Driscoll] the benefit of the doubt,” they stated in 2014.

But “based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” they wrote. “Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29.”

The Acts 29 brotherhood was hurt and confused, some by Driscoll’s actions, some by the board’s rejection of him. So leaders opened up town hall meetings, telling the people to ask anything they wanted.

“Everyone asked really honest questions, and what was more important, they heard really honest answers,” Kwon said, “answers of brokenness, of grief. Answers that were really saturated in grace and longing for our brother Mark. He was not our enemy; he was a fallen brother.”
That kindness and openness did a lot to earn leaders the trust of pastors, and to soften and humble the entire network, Kwon said.

Remarkably, not a single church left. In fact, in the tumultuous and traumatic 2014, Acts 29 welcomed 78 new members, 71 new candidates, and 145 new applications
After Driscoll stepped down from ministry, his 12,000-member church—and the majority of Acts 29’s funding—came to a crashing halt.

Two months after asking Driscoll and Mars Hill to leave, and two months before the megachurch officially dissolved, Acts 29 announced the mandatory 1 percent contribution to what became known as the Catalyst Fund, which would fund operations and new plants. Two months later, they held their first big fundraiser.
So at least one person connected with Acts 29 regards Driscoll as a fallen brother.  It may be that the consensus in Acts 29 leadership is that Driscoll has not provided evidence that he is fit for ministry ... ?  Or is there a clarifying remark about that subject pending?

Some of those quotes look familiar but for the longer statements ...
Throckmorton states he got a letter that was sent by A29 leadership and that it contained the following text: [paragraph breaks supplied by WtH and are conjecture]


As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior. In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming.

We now have to take another course of action. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction. We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner.

Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior. Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.

In sorrow and with hope,
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network
Matt Chandler
Darrin Patrick
 Steve Timmis
Eric Mason
John Bryson
Bruce Wesley
Leonce Crump

There's been a few sorrowful letters of parting ways from A29 and MH people in the last three years, hasn't there?

The public statement by Acts 29 regarding Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll is here:

8August 2014

It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Matt Chandler
Darrin Patrick
Steve Timmis
Eric Mason
John Bryson
Bruce Wesley
Leonce Crump

Update from the Board of Advisors & Accountability
Earlier today our board chairman, as well as many of our other pastors, received a letter from Matt Chandler, the president of Acts 29. The letter notified us that the board of Acts 29 has removed Pastor Mark and Mars Hill from membership in the Acts 29 church planting network. Our board responded to the letter with the following update to our elders, and we wanted to share it with you as well.

I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most.

I have never in my life spoken with Matt Chandler or any of the A29 board members for that matter (except Darrin Patrick, once about 4 years ago as part of Pastor Mark’s employment review process which he used to be a part of). In addition, no one from Acts 29 contacted Larry Osborne of our board prior to this decision. And perhaps most significantly, Pastor Mark was not personally contacted by the A29 board prior to receiving this announcement.

So I am not quite sure what Matt means by “leaning on the board to take the lead in dealing with this matter.”

Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.
Our board’s decision is final regarding these charges, although will no doubt continue to be played out in the courts of public opinion. Again, I am deeply saddened that the A29 board would make such a decisive and divisive conclusion without speaking directly to the board or Mark prior to their public announcement.

My counsel to you is to not become bitter or angry. Continue to pray for all involved. Continue to love and lead the people God has brought to your churches. They need a pastor right now and God has given them you!

Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability

Larry Osborne
Board Member

So, overall the article is alright as an overview of Acts 29 since roughly 2012 but there's still gaps in the history of leadership transitions.  The specific gaps are

2005 transition from David Nicholas to Mark Driscoll leading A29
2012 Scott Thomas' departure
2016 removal of Darrin Patrick
on this latter topic see also
By Acts 29
April 14, 2016

It is with deep sadness that we have accepted the resignation of Darrin Patrick from the Board of Acts 29, and removed him as Vice-President and a member. We have taken these steps to respect, honour and affirm the decision and process of the elders at The Journey. ...
Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network and founding pastor of The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, has been fired for violating his duties as a pastor.
The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and “a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”
In a letter announcing its lead pastor’s removal after 14 years of leadership, the church clarified that adultery was not a factor, though elders looked into inappropriate interactions with two women.

A years-long pattern of sin led to the dismissal this week of Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey, a St. Louis, Mo., megachurch. While the reconciliation process is underway, an expert in pastoral crisis management who was called in to work with the church said Patrick’s restoration could take as long as his undoing. He does not expect Patrick to return to ministry anytime soon.
After confirming “substantive allegations of pastoral misconduct … combined with deep historical patterns of sin,” the elders of The Journey this week called for Patrick’s removal. He also resigned as vice president of the board of Acts 29, a church-planting network of congregations, which includes The Journey. 
For that matter, the history of those people who at one point endorsed Real Marriage has been pockmarked with some controversies.

Particularly this year in the "post Weinstein" moment we're discovering that things are pretty equally ugly across the spectrum in terms of what men who believe they have power and influence feel able to do.

But the history of the crash and burn of Mars Hill Church should be a reminder that those scandals don't have to be about sex as such to still revolve around questions about integrity, the use of power, and leadership ethics. 

If there's a way to distill the recent piece about Acts 29 into a single sentence it's this--Acts 29 managed to survive the controversies and crises associated with mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church by divesting themselves of association and working to put as much distance within their doctrinal convictions from that historic connection as possible. 


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